Monday, February 23, 2015

Bobby's wisdom

Date of rehearsal: 02/21/15
Orchestra: chamber
Repertoire Rehearsed: America (or at least what we have of it so far...)

As I anticipated myself, I was not able to complete the arrangement, but I think I was able to come up with enough stuff to keep you a little busy for the week :)

I have a bit of experience with the music of West Side Story. I have performed the whole Symphonic Suite (which is rather similar in the epicness and complex rhythmic structures to, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and just as difficult) three times, and coached the World Peace Orchestra perform it in Avery Fischer hall two years ago. The first time i ever played it, our orchestra was being coached by Bobby McFerrin! One thing I will never forget that he told us was that, when you practice music like this one (Jazz influenced music, or music in Jazz style), you must practice putting the metronome beats on the back beats, instead of the down beats as we always do in classical music. When I tried it, it immediately put me in a different world. I felt the music differently. At the time, I had zero experience in non-classical music, but just by feeling the rhythm differently, I felt like the door to the non-classical world became unlocked, opened, and I took a step into this whole new world. to this day, I am convinced that you cannot play music correctly, if you don't understand the rhythmic treatment of that particular style.

I have enough jazz musician friends to know that they really really hate it when the audience claps along with their playing on the "on" beats. It ruins their vibe, groove and style. To them, it must feel like playing a waltz while the bass plays only on the second or the third beats of the measures.

Now unfortunately, we cannot apply this method (metronome on the backbeats) in our particular scenario, for this particular number we are working on is in a meter that alternates 6/8 and 3/4. Neither meter has what we call the "back beats". And back beats emphasis obviously is not the "style" of this particular number anyway. But I am mentioning this, because practicing the method (not who taught me about it, but that didn't hurt) gave me one of the greatest impact I ever had on my musical life. And I think that it is applicable in the sense that one must understand and feel the groove and style to play correctly.

This piece may not have back beats but is nevertheless rhythmic in nature. It is it's main feature. So pay attention to this rhythm. I'd like to invite you to be fascinated by it. Tap it with your hands and feet. Feel all the eight notes, and feel the alternating accents. There is both lightness and heaviness to this rhythm. See if you can feel both at the same time.

This is a dance. Dances are generally fun and graceful and this is not an exception. Yet there is an element of conflict (poetic) to this song.

The grace notes in this piece are really something that emphasizes the rhythm, not the melody, and also add lightness to it. So play the grace notes gracefully, while keeping your internal clock of eighth notes unwavering, and solid as rock.

So my suggestion for practicing the piece would be to set your metronome to the eighth note beats and accenting the appropriate beats with a sense of lightness. Do not pound the accents for that is not the style. Just remember to dance. Always sing and dance.

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